‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Review: An Unexpected ‘Noah’ Sequel

'Exodus: Gods and Kings'

Movie Rating:


The strangest major studio release last spring was Darren Aronofsky’s wacky ‘Noah’. In a perverse way, it makes sense that 2014 should wrap up with another ambiguous Old Testament blockbuster. Ridley Scott’s twist on the Ten Commandments serves up a Moses with questionable sanity and harshly violent CinemaScope spectacle in a manner that the old Hollywood Biblical epics wouldn’t dare to touch. ‘Exodus’ is no masterpiece, but it’s big, pretty, expensive and occasionally quite interesting. Fans of the book might not appreciate all the changes to the mythology, though. They’re harder to please than comic book fans, so the studio should be nervous.

The plot is of course the story of Moses (Christian Bale), an orphan boy who grew up in an Egyptian palace. He’s now grown into a brilliant general with the Pharaoh’s (John Turturro) ear and he’s best buds with the prince and future king Rhamses (Joel Edgerton). Once Rhamses takes power, his quiet resentment for Moses grows. When he hears rumors that Moses is secretly a Jew who was adopted by his Egyptian stepmother out of a basket, he has Moses banished.

From there, Moses lives in exile and even has a family, until one night a dream about a little boy and a burning bush convinces him that he’s seen God. Moses decides to take his pre-ordained role as the leader of the Jews and kicks off a rebellion amongst the slaves. When regular boom-bang rebellion tactics don’t work fast enough, Moses prays super hard and a series of plagues besets the kingdom. Eventually, Moses leads the Jews across the desert to freedom. The Red Sea gets parted. Yadda yadda yadda… You know the story, only this time there’s a big battle in the parted sea because it’s a Ridley Scott movie.

On the surface, Scott’s goal with the film is to reclaim the lost Hollywood genre of the Biblical epic as a blood and guts spectacle for contemporary audiences. The big sets and crazy costumes of the old days are here. (The award for silliest costume is a toss-up between the cavalcade of ridiculous clothes that Turturro wears and Ewen Bremner’s insane get-up.) However, now they come with inevitable CGI enhancements, comically clichéd “Middle East” music, and the massive bloody battles that Scott made his own in the secular Roman epic ‘Gladiator’.

As a work of big expensive entertainment, the movie is fine. Scott is a master of that form and knows how to craft gigantic pretty pictures, as well as make his audiences’ palms sweaty. Unfortunately, Scott’s not the world’s greatest storyteller, and all of his typical flaws are on display here. Dialogue scenes play long and dreary, as if even the director was bored shooting them. It’s also quite clear that even with a 150 minute running time, Scott made mincemeat of certain subplots and characters in the editing room. As a result, the movie plays awkwardly. I have no doubt that there will inevitably be a Director’s Cut Blu-ray. Whether or not a longer version of the movie is better will remain a mystery until then. The film is a long sit as it is, so Scott’s editorial mercy is appreciated for now, even if narrative flow has been sacrificed.

What makes ‘Exodus’ more compelling than it has any right to be is the subtext. All of the events of the typical Moses tale are here to be taken literally. Yet, Scott is clearly ambivalent about the existence of God and slips those feelings into his movie. (It’s likely no coincidence that the film is dedicated to the memory of the director’s brother, Tony Scott, whose death was tragic and irrational.) Scott’s version of the tale presents a Moses who could very well have seen God, but also could be going insane.

The nature of the mass deaths of the plagues and the impartial cruelty of those “acts of God” is explored openly, and Christian Bale offers an ideal Moses for this take on the material. While most of the performances surrounding him are histrionic in a manner suited to an old-timey Biblical epic, Bale plays Moses as a damaged, confused and lost man. Whether or not he finds salvation or insanity from his God is never made clear by Bale or Scott, and their film is far more interesting for it.

‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ might be indulgent, over-long and outdated blockbuster filmmaking, but at least it’s blockbuster filmmaking that wants its audience to have a complex relationship with the subject matter. That’s an admirable ambition from Scott and Bale. It’s just a shame that they got beaten to the punch by Darren Aronofsky’s superior ‘Noah’, which sprung from similar motivations but pushed its ideas much farther.

Ah well, the two films play like an unexpected franchise now. A third chapter to this spiritually questioning Biblical trilogy would be most welcome if any other filmmaker is up to the task – unless you count Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, in which case the trilogy is now complete.


  1. Everybody’s got to do the combined “Cinematic Universe” thing now. Noah and Moses get their standalone origin stories now. Later, they’ll team up with Jim Caviezel’s Jesus for the inevitable crossover in The Revelationers.

    Just wait until Phase 2. That’s when the real shit goes down!

    • Deaditelord

      Lol! I hear the producers are trying to get Zack Snyder to write and direct it so I can’t wait to see Jesus throw down in all his CGI enhanced slow motion glory. Talk about a guaranteed blockbuster!

  2. Thulsadoom

    I’m curious to see this, but despite being somewhat of a Ridley fan (Alien and Bladerunner are two of my favourite films, and I have a soft spot for Gladiator and Legend), I think he does misfire on the finer points of his plots and script quite often (honestly, Prometheus… I wanted to like it so much. The ideas and overall story are pretty good, the production design, sets and special effects are nothing short of amazing, and the actors are (mostly) pretty good. But the characters and plot are just Picard-Face-Palm terrible… )

    We saw Noah recently, and god(no pun intended) what an awful movie. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few nice ideas (the unusual take on the angels, the almost post-apocalyptic setting at the beginning that was never explored) but the rest was just a mess with some good (and mediocre… Ray, I’m talking about you!) actors.

    I don’t mind the odd biblical epic (and I love some of the old classic ones), as I don’t have any problems with the religious aspects, despite not being religious myself. But it’s still got to be a good film. So I’m hoping this is better than the mess that was Noah. 🙂

  3. Deaditelord

    Did you happen to see it in 3D Phillip? I’m planning on going to see it tomorrow and was trying to decide if it was worth the surcharge.

    • Phil Brown

      I did see it in 3D. It’s big and expensive, so it looks pretty in 3D. But it’s not exactly a dealbreaker to see it any other way. Kind of like Prometheus. Sure parts look good in 3D because the movie looks good in general. But the 3D isn’t a vital part of the visual design like say Gravity or Coraline.

    • Chapz Kilud

      I saw it on 3D ETX, though I’m not sure if it was played with Dolby Atmos. 3D wasn’t spectacular. I’d recommend saving the money.

      I’m not sure what the “extended” or “director’s cut” edition will add. I’m probably the only person who thinks Kingdom of Heaven was Ridley’s best film. In that movie the director’s cut definitely helped the narrative a lot.

  4. Timcharger

    Myths: Other people’s beliefs.

    All of MY beliefs are literal and obviously true. There is nothing
    in the Moses story that requires suspension of disbelief.

    I gotta go get that. My burning bush is ringing…

  5. Timcharger

    “Fans of the book might not appreciate all the changes to the mythology, though. They’re harder to please than comic book fans”

    Nice! Jab to the face and an uppercut into the ribs by Phil.

  6. Alex Cuellar

    Well well,
    The author of this review just gave a great review… about all of his feelings about the movie.
    With plenty of assumptions about motivations and feelings. And mini-lectures about non cinema related things.
    “But at least it’s blockbuster filmmaking that wants its audience to have a complex relationship with the subject matter. That’s an admirable ambition from Scott and Bale.”
    A worthy opinion. Completly opposite of my opinion, that bale’s performance of Moses was as imaginitevly accurate as you can get. Meaning one would imagine that with everything that Moses went through, (whether you watch this film or read the bible theres no difference) Moses undergoes these “insane” trials that would put such an amount of stress, fear, anxiety, and desperation, that one of any weaker faith would go mad. And we see Moses’ own faith, struggle against these inner feelings. We see him get angry, we see him doubt, we see him reject ideas of God, we see him make excuses that he is not strong enough. This is what I would say is a very accurate portrayal if one were to imagine how Moses did act. I agree with bale, who affirmed these ideas (in interview) of imagining the bible story and considering the emotions caused by this incredible ordeal that was thrust upon Moses.
    With the director, I “imagine” the same tactic. We have the bible story, now what realisitcally could be imagined about what would have happened? Not what HISTORICALLY and traditionally happened, and what does the church teach. But we can be accurate about figuring out characters just by knowing what happened to them. And with the knowledge already know throughout the world about one of the greatest stories of the bible.
    Prince of Egypt was a smashing success, and was SO breathtaking to see such real characters play with the emotions caused by the story. This Exodus version took the emotions even further.
    Making Moses murder the guard our of fear, when in the bible he murdered out of anger. I don’t think that’s a mistake and I don’t think it dishonours any religion. I think it’s a triumph for both the christian, and the moviegoer.
    Noah was NOT always basing its depictions soely on “what do we know about the story.” Noah literally made up a lot of crap haha like a “Never Ending Story” fantacy peice, but a PG-13 rating. The greatest triumph in that movie, one of the only triumphs was the acting done to portray Noah. The bible describes Noah as an unshakable man of faith. God’s only serant to do the job. Even though he thinks God is telling him to kill a baby, and Noah ends up being… well wrong lol. Which is the directors fauly for throwing that in there. It’s literally in their only because the long weeks of waiting in a boat until the dove finds land would be too boring to watch on screen. I could myself think of better fillers to make up than an almost abortion lol. WOAHHHHHHHH I said the A word…
    And rock giants? Again, thats not searching for an emotion, a feeling, a story. AGAIN thats just throwing “the never ending story’s” rock biter in there! LOL
    Exodus was a smashing success to it’s story and Noah was a smash in the face to a greater story than any movie. The might of the movie Noah deserved a better director.

    NOW BACKTRACKING… All of this is my own opinion. All of it.
    What goes into a review is a smart, intelligent, and educated, breaking down of the truth behind the movie beheld.
    A review is a finite explanation and just disection of what made the movie great and what didn’t.
    Not “Ohhhhh, but we all know that this is why the director did that, cause he believes this, and cause his brother died. And I respect the director for doing this just because he felt this. Cause i know thats what he was feeling…. yea.”
    That’s not how you review my friend, which is why this article is so obscenely unhelpful to anyone in the world.
    It serves no purpose to float in the midst of the internet, filling peoples head with opinion of:
    SIGN NAME HERE __________________________

    Next time, watch the movie more than once. Ignore your impractical distates, do some more research about the movie, view every single interview about the actors and directors giving ACTUAL opinions, and THEN write a great review!

    If it’s not obvious (wait actually it’s probably not) I’m not Christian bible defender lol no. I am a movie lover, and I rely on many reviews to feed food for thought to my own meditations and inner discutions about movies. But alas yours was of no benefit.

    P.S. I’ll read your review when the “Risen” movie comes out 😉 good luck, and my apology for any offence taken. Cretiquing the critic is still good critiquing I think. Best wishes.

  7. Alex Cuellar

    I give the movie a solid 4 stars. Most notably for the acting of Moses and Ramsis (they both connected extremly emotionally with their character “perfectly”, for the creative story telling and story changing that is not in any way insulting to those whom this story is beloved and a part of faith, for the broad production scale as you mentioned (It’s a smashing epic done on the modern scale), and for the score which was creative and flowed extremly well with the movie. The score’s writer is brilliant.
    Also what makes one movie great on it’s own is that it has ONE main message. Any kind of message really. As long as it’s clear, it’s well done. And the message was quite clear “faith against all odds.” Every single thing that one COULD throw at Moses. Emotional turmoil, an Egyptian army, a brittal weak nation of israelites to baby sit, and super natural accurences, Moses had it all. The movie made clear that he could have given up and only barely made it through. Poor guys literally ate sand lol.
    Great movie.
    Not any higher than a 4, but it’s very good. Some how it could not make an impact of any kind of compelling feelings in me, I didn’t feel any grand inspiration from the movie. But it was still a great great movie. Somehow I feel it was indeed trying to hit audiences with difference feels, I didn’t feel them. It was mostly action, and so rough in the anger and rage that it seemed to lack in intimacy. Usually ANY kind of “dad holding his dangling dead son” scene will have a powerful enough moment to bring you to tear. But nope, not found here. Perhapse the 5th star we are missing, is in some beautiful intimacy with the audience with a close relationship between the music score and script and scupting of the scenes. Maybe it went over the directors head to make the audience feel more sadness. To want to latch unto any character. So there we miss our half a star or 5th star.

    Job well done to the movie and it’s entire production crew. Peace out.

  8. Alex Cuellar

    I could never be a movie review myself. Not a reviewer to serve the public. I need to say all my feelings and opinions and emotions. x)

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